Cigar Aficionado

California Tries to Ban Smoking in Cars with Kids

If you have ever sat in traffic on a Los Angeles expressway and smoked cigars to keep you sane, you may have to search for another option, should there be minors in the car. Yesterday, the California Senate Health Committee approved a proposed ban that would prohibit smoking in cars in which children under the age of 18 are present. The bill, titled SB 7, was put forth by Democratic Sen. Jenny Oropeza, who is hoping that California will join Louisiana, Arkansas and Maine in making it illegal to smoke in a vehicle carrying children.

The fine would be $100. The measure will now be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"This bill applies to any individual who is smoking in a car wherever the car is located," said Oropeza. "If it is in public view, an officer may cite them. It's just the next step in a logical progression of laws that we as a public have already seen as necessary for protecting the health of young children."

But this "logical progression" has some cigar smokers worried about how zealous the laws will become should the new smoking ban succeed.

"I smoke in my car a few times a month," said Michael Mehringer, regional business manager at Roche Diagnostics and resident of Huntington Beach in Orange County, California. "I'd hate to imagine what this law might lead to. Where does the line get drawn? What's next? Am I going to be fined because the smoke in my car wafts out the window into a nearby park? This idea may sound ludicrous, but is it really that far away?"

Perhaps not. Another bill introduced simultaneously by Oropeza, titled SB 4, would establish a fine of $250 for smoking at a state beach or within a state park.

New Yorker Frank Levatino, a parent who smokes in his car every day, shudders to think what would happen if a law prohibiting in-car smoking made it to the Empire State.

"I have never, nor would I ever, choose to smoke in any vehicle with my children or any other minor," said Levatino. "Not because the law says so, but because I believe my family's rights take priority." He travels about 900 miles per week driving to Connecticut and back and uses the road time to enjoy cigars. Alone.

It seems that Senator Oropeza does not trust that all parents will exercise the same sound judgment as Levatino without the threat of a fine.

"In the case of children who cannot protect themselves," maintains Oropeza, "it's critical that we step in and take a guiding hand, a protective hand on their behalf."

Oropeza's proposal to protect the children, however, raises questions about a nanny government overstepping its bounds in regards to parenting.

One person with such concerns is Keith Park, founder and CEO of Prometheus International, a California-based company, who also formed the California Association of Liberty and Choice, an organization that fought and defeated Proposition 86, which proposed a 135 percent tobacco tax in California.

"Being the father of two children, I would not put my daughters in a smoke-filled car," said Park. "We have to be responsible smokers, but regulations like this set the stage for a comprehensive ban on smoking in cars."

Park believes that one of the biggest problems facing the industry is the rapid proliferation of smoking bans across the country. He insists that smoking ban propositions are not properly publicized, so by the time smokers hear about them, it's too late to fight them. Park did not comment on whether or not he is going to form a coalition to lobby against Oropeza's proposed measure. If he does, it will be the first major outcry against the bill.

"We have not received any formal opposition to the ban," said Ray Sotero, communications director for Senator Oropeza. "Nothing from tobacco companies, cigar companies or individuals. There was significant opposition in 2004 when this bill was first introduced, but nothing now. We believe that it's just a sign of the times."

Senator Oropeza has successfully banned smoking in common-use areas such as covered parking lots, adjacent stairwells, lobbies, lounges, waiting areas, elevators and restrooms throughout California. The car is one of the few places left a Californian can smoke, but even that right is eroding under the premise of protecting children. The next measure could conceivably propose, like the cell phone laws, that one cannot safely drive and smoke at the same time.